January 7, 2013

Coaches vs. Recruiters

UVA won it's 11th game of the season last night in a 61-52 defensive spectacle. Questionable prior to the game with an ankle injury, Akil Mitchell turned in an energetic performance in which he and Darion Atkins completely dominated the paint against what was clearly a disjointed and inexperienced Tar Heel attack, and held potential lottery pick James Michael McAdoo to a meager 10 points and 4 turnovers. The Hoos put on a clinic, and one that clearly brought to light just what Hoofans can expect from this program during the Bennett era.

The main focus of hiring Tony Bennett was bringing in a coach who was capable of competing in the ACC, knowing full well the recruiting disadvantages of any school in the ACC not named Duke or North Carolina. Tony was hired because he had a scheme that he knew worked, and that could maximize what he could get out of his talent, instead of maximizing the talent he could get. A common theme among ACC teams is to out recruit the rest of the country. While it is effective due to the ACC's national prominence, there is no way to assume a level of sustained success at any program without also possessing a top notch coach who can develop the star power he brings in, and can continue to bring in top notch talent. If you need an example of this you can look at Dave Leitao's last ditch effort to save his job, Sylven Landesberg. That's a prime example of a kid coming in to be the star of the team, and then jump straight to the NBA. That's what the typical ACC coach sells. Playing time, national exposure, and in turn a ticket to the NBA. It's an effective strategy, for a year or two. It will be interesting to see how the Terps or the NC State Wolfpack recruiting classes look over the next few seasons, as players will see that they are not walking into a big role, and it will come down to what these coaches can do when their classes return to only above average, and not otherworldly. At some point, unless you are a blueblood program, it is all going to catch up with you. And as we saw last night, sometimes it will catch up to a blueblood as well.

Let's compare the recruiting rankings of the starting 5's from last night. 

James Michael McAdoo  (*****) Ranked 8th Nationally for Class of 2011
Dexter Strickland (****) Ranked 34th Nationally for Class of 2009
Reggie Bullock (*****) Ranked 10th Nationally for Class of 2010
Marcus Paige (****) Ranked 38th Nationally for Class of 2012
Desmond Hubert (***) Ranked 140th Nationally for Class of 2011

Darion Atkins (***) Not Ranked Nationally
Paul Jesperson (***) Ranked 136th Nationally for Class of 2011
Akil Mitchell (***) Not Ranked Nationally
Joe Harris (***) Ranked 119th Nationally for Class of 2010
Teven Jones (***) Not Ranked Nationally

Clearly, and I do mean clearly, UVA was the better team last night. Smothering defense, timely shooting, and a willingness to play together to frustrate and confuse the opponent cause the Wahoos to pick up a big win to start ACC play. This win demonstrates the difference between a great coach and a great recruiter and should be the game that everyone points to whenever someone brings up our lack of talent or criticizes our style of play. This is what Virginia basketball is, and will be. A system that will work, that is built on defense, and does not require elite level talent to succeed. This is coupled with the tremendous coaching staff that knows the system, and can develop players into stars. Akil Mitchell was considered a throw-in at the end of the 2010 class, and look at him now. We have a staff and system in place that can build a consistent and sustained winner, and most importantly, one that is not built on flash-in-the-pan incredible recruiting hauls. Last night's game was more than a great win. It was a statement about UVA basketball and where it is heading. And that direction is very clearly up.